Amy Roberts: Lions and triggers and bears, oh my!
Last week, Utah lawmaker Carl Albrecht proposed a bill that would trigger a knee-jerk reaction with the potential to disrupt, if not dismantle, much of the state’s ecosystem. Albrecht, a Republican from Richfield, is sponsoring H.B. 125, which mandates the Division of Wildlife Resources “take immediate action” to reduce large predators when big game species population numbers fall below desired levels. The bill would automatically increase the number of hunting permits for apex predators like mountain lions and bears, with the goal of increasing the population of mule deer so hunters have better luck.
Albrecht claims over the last few months he’s received more calls from his constituents about the lack of deer than he did about the tax reform bill. Which I find a bit odd. I can’t imagine a scenario where, after hanging out in a deer stand for hours with nothing to show for it, I’d assume the next logical step was to call my representative in the Legislature.
I also can’t imagine a scenario where the next logical step after that was to kill more mountain lions and bears so we can protect the deer, so that we can kill more deer. But alas, logic is rarely a factor in Utah’s legislative process.
If it were, Mr. Albrecht might consider the ratio of predators to prey across the state of Utah. It’s estimated there are roughly 2,000 adult mountain lions, about 3,500 adult bears and over 370,000 deer in Utah — which is about 100,000 more deer than were in the state 10 years ago. Further, both predators dine on more than deer alone, and statistically an adult mountain lion kills less than one deer per week and black bears are opportunistic predators — they’ll take a fawn if it’s convenient, but don’t seek them out. In fact, studies indicate fewer than 10% of fawn mortality can be linked to black bears. And then there’s this number – 62,150 — that’s how many deer hunting permits were allotted in Utah last year.
The math alone suggests the bill is shortsighted. It also fails to consider a slew of other factors that might be contributing to the voter-reported decline of deer populations, including disease, habitat loss, and a spat of harsh winters. It seems to me if lawmakers truly are concerned about the deer population, maybe instead of targeting apex predators they could do something about real estate developments that wipe out entire herds with much greater efficiency and frequency. Or, perhaps, restrict the number of hunting permits doled out each year.
While it’s not for me, I understand deer hunting is a tradition, a rite of passage, and for some, a way to feed their families. This column is not about the pros or cons of deer hunting. It’s about the cons of man attempting to manipulate the ecosystem, which over the course of millions of years has proven it has far better methods than humans. Nature, while often cruel and unforgiving, has a PhD in the management of natural resources. It’s not a job for beginners. Or retired utility executives, which the expertise Mr. Albrecht brings.
Every area has an ecological carrying capacity — the maximum number of species that can survive in a given area indefinitely based on the amount of food, weather, habitat, water, and other constraints. When the number of species grows to an unsustainable level, nature does what it does and introduces fire, flood, disease, and/or toxins to cull the population. Over the course of millions of years, she has fine-tuned her playbook allowing prey and predator species to coexist and contribute to a balanced ecosystem.
If HB 125 becomes law, it would decimate the role of science in favor of special interest. Apex predators are essential to a healthy ecosystem. They not only help control herd populations, they also force herds to keep moving. This allows vegetation to recover, it protects riverbanks from erosion, and creates nutrient hotspots for other wildlife to flourish. Which tends to matter to those who appreciate a little wildlife variety.
This bill disregards basic biology, but even more troubling it disregards logic. After all, how is it ethical to kill more predators on the hope there will be more deer to kill?
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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